As Věra explained, what we present to you today is the first effort so far in mapping the different investor schemes that exist. The biggest difference between the so-called “golden passports” and “golden visas” is that the first one gives national - and thereby EU – citizenship, while the second allows non-EU citizens to reside legally in a Member State.
Both have a European dimension, but there are differences in competence, scale and variety. As such, the granting of investor residence permits is and remains national competence.
However, a valid residence permit gives such investors not only the right to reside in the Member State in question, but also to travel freely in the European Union and in particular in the Schengen area for short periods.
Secondly, I mentioned scale. In the European Union, there are twenty Member States that operate investor residence schemes. The three countries that operate investor citizenship schemes (Bulgaria,Cyprus and Malta) also have investor residence schemes.
On top of those, 17 others have such schemes: Czechia, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.
Thirdly, we observe a great variety in investment options and conditions. Investors from outside the EU can invest in capital, in immovable property, in government bonds, through donation or endowment of an activity contributing to the public good, or a one-time contribution to the State budget.
These options are also not mutually exclusive or exhaustive.
On top of that, a non-financial investment such as the creation of jobs or the contribution to the economy may be required.
In terms of amount, the scale ranges from a very low investment (below EUR 100,000) to a very high investment (over EUR 5 million).
And what investors get in return also greatly varies: while most Member States that apply such schemes offer temporary residence permits which range from 6 months to 1, 2 or 3 years, some offer 4 years, 5 years or even 10 years residence permits.
And this of course means not only that this could provide a fast-track to national citizenship (and thereby EU citizenship), but also EU long-term residence status, where we have clear conditions but also rights.
While we would like to believe that these schemes were not designed to circumvent EU law or generate abuses, we do have similar concerns as with the golden passports regarding security risks, but also money laundering, tax evasion and transparency issues.
For example, Member States are obliged to carry out certain security checks in the Schengen and Visa Information Systems before issuing a visa or residence permit. So, while Member States are fully responsible for the creation and design of these investor residence schemes, they are not off the hook when it comes to certain checks and balances that impact their fellow Member States.
However, there is a lack of available information on the practical implementation as well as discretion in the way Member States approach security concerns.
On top of that, the total number of residence permits granted by Member States is unknown due to a lack of transparency and specific oversight of these schemes. The issuing of residence permits needs careful monitoring, transparency and oversight.
We urgently need reliable statistics on how many people obtain a residency permit through these schemes, and also careful follow-up afterwards.
This is what the expert group that we will set up will help us do.
But more importantly, we will closely monitor wider issues of compliance with EU law raised by these schemes and we will take necessary action, as appropriate. Because a residence permit opens the door to the European Union.
And the EU borders are our common borders, and so we all have a responsibility to ensure they are protected.
Together we are making important progress in building a Europe that protects, by strengthening our borders and closing information gaps.
We will not allow that what we have been working on together for the past years is jeopardised.
Finally, we will also not ignore similar practices in our immediate neighbourhood, where we see that investor citizenship schemes exist in third countries that either are in accession talks or have a visa-free regime with us.
Particularly when it comes to visa-free travel, we would not like to see that certain wealthy individuals simply bypass the regular Schengen visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of individual migratory and security risks it entails.
We will continue to monitor such investor citizenship schemes as part of our accession talks and the visa-suspension mechanism respectively.
I would like to finish by calling on all Member States that have investor residence schemes to take up their responsibility and ensure that they fully respect already existing EU law and avoid any abuses.
Thank you very much for your attention.